FUNNY WOMEN #54: Thomas Hardy Isn’t Jane Austen; Get Over It

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They hated the ending. I knew they would. They always hate the ending. “They” means my university students. “The ending” means the last chapters of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd (1874).

Plot summary of Madding Crowd to follow: please feel free to skip ahead to if you know this story. If you have read the novel but have never seen the 1967 film adaptation, skip ahead only as far as: .

Beautiful and spunky Bathsheba Everdene inherits a farm, which by trial and error she learns to manage. She is loved by three men and must choose the right one, which she fails to do for the first 436 pages. Her choices:

Choice #1: The shepherd; the right choice but initially spurned. He proposes way too soon.

Choice #2: The older, wealthy, bachelor farmer next door; the ostensibly sensible choice, but he proves to be a total wing nut when he shoots…

Choice #3: A rakish soldier; the utter wrong choice whom Bathsheba marries. Conveniently, the rakish soldier dies from the gunshot wound, the wealthy farmer goes to gaol [Victorian for “jail”], and a couple chapters later Bathsheba marries her old pal the shepherd, Gabriel Oak.

I don’t write these books. I just teach them. And I love them, despite—or perhaps because of—the excess skepticism with which I have regarded the possibilities for sustaining long-term, amorous relationships with members of the opposite sex: i.e., men. I say “have regarded” because in this, the post-marital, peri-menopausal stage of life, I am trying very hard to bring into healthier proportions my HDL and LDL levels of romantic skepticism. I recently even ventured into online dating. If you’d like to skip ahead to hear about this new venture of mine, please go to: .

I used to show my students the 1967 film version of Madding Crowd, but they always poked great fun at Alan Bates’s shepherd getup, and the swordplay scene with Terrence Stamp, and Julie Christie’s 1960s modish white lipstick. Their ridiculing of one of my seven-ever favorite films inevitably raised my blood pressure, so I stopped screening it with them. I have similarly been trying to achieve healthier systolic and diasytolic levels in the balancing of my professorial bitterness with my professorial idealism.

Yes, my university students recently and predictably hated the ending of Far From the Madding Crowd. Stephanie G. [students’ names have been changed for my protection] took the lead. She began the class with this little chestnut: “What I didn’t appreciate about the ending was the way Hardy marries Bathsheba off. It’s like, because he’s a man, he can’t imagine her without a man in her life. I really didn’t appreciate that.” Pause; glare. “At all.”

She used “appreciate” to mean “approve of,” as in: “Mother, I didn’t appreciate your embarrassing me that way.” She was deeply—and personally—offended by the novel’s ending, as if Thomas Hardy had composed it in 1874 specifically to irritate Stephanie G. in 2010.

“I agree,” chimed in Kristen S. “I know it’s because he wants to keep his readers happy, but it’s obvious he didn’t want to marry her off—that he just felt an obligation—you know—to end Far From the Maddening Crowd with a marriage.”

I noted her slip—“maddening” for “madding”—but I let it pass. The previous week, I’d corrected Kristen each time she bungled the title, which was every time she said it. I figured, by this point, she’d simply made an executive decision and substituted “maddening” for its antiquated synonym, “madding,” because she thought it was an improvement.

Stephanie and Kristen have been growing increasingly irritated with Thomas Hardy and with me: Hardy because he isn’t Jane Austen, and me because I enjoy making disparaging remarks about Jane Austen.

“Pride” and “Prejudice” [a.k.a.: Stephanie G. and Kristen S.] are also mad at me because when they invited me to speak to their “sisters” at the Very Pretty Girls Sorority on the topic, “The Glass Ceiling: Myth or Reality?” My talking points all led to a single conclusion: “Reality.” The sisters didn’t want to hear this. They wanted to hear that the glass ceiling was definitively broken through by women of my generation. And they wanted to hear that, with the glass ceiling shattered, they could now have it all: the coach, the castle, and the glass .

As if.

Sorry. I retract that. Bad dating karma. And I can’t afford bad dating karma. Because . . .

. . . four and a half weeks ago, I signed up with an online dating site. My online moniker: Bathsheba Everdene.

Yesterday, I got my first hit-on email. It was from Dale, the man you see pictured at that start of the previous paragraph.

The note from Dale did have some charm. He got the literary allusion of my online username [in case you did not, see third paragraph]. And he did not use a single exclamation point or “LOL.” That’s something, I suppose, if you’re content to live in a world of greatly diminished expectations. But he does look like Mr. Potato Head: the mustache, the ears, and the apparent lack of a torso. I know this is jumping ahead, but I don’t think I could have sex with a man without a torso. And I’d very much like to have sex again soon, as in: sometime before the next Chinese year of the dragon [you’ll have to look that one up yourself].

All this leads me to ask:

Q: Is using the online screen name “Bathsheba Everdene” a good idea?

A: Four and a half weeks for a single hit isn’t so long a time.

Right?

Q. Must I really post a photo with my profile?

A: Mr. Potato Head was my first hit in four and a half weeks.

Q: Okay, but must it really be a recent picture of me?

A: Let’s consult a few experts: 1. Jane Austen: “A woman of seven and twenty can never hope to inspire affection again.”
–Sense and Sensibility2. Online Dating for Dummies: Their first, in a series of “Some major do’s,” is: “Avoid even a hint of deception. . . . We online daters are a highly suspicious lot”; 3. Oscar Wilde: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”–The Importance of Being Earnest.

 

 

To review and weigh the options:

Austen died when she was forty-one. A virgin. Next.

Dummies uses a “don’t” as their first “major do.” Next.

I’m open to readers’ advice. For the moment, however, I’m putting my money on Wilde.

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JF is a situational liar, an acerbic professor capable of limited spasms of likeability, and an unwed mother of an adolescent son. Her blog Studio Nightshade recounts the progress of her screenplay, her encounters with men, and her efforts to build a stronger relationship with her son, whom she has raised believing that he came from a sperm bank. Follow her at: http://www.studionightshade-myseriallife.com/. More from this author →